Today I’m celebrating the life of two people I never met but have come to know and admire intimately: my cousin Shirley Greenblatt and her husband Collins “Pat” Patterson.
60 years ago, in 1952, they were among the first interracial couples to marry in California (Shirley was Jewish and Pat was black). But because of intense prejudice at the time, Shirley was afraid that her parents would disown her for marrying not only outside the Jewish faith but across racial lines. The couple hid their marriage from Shirley’s family for nearly 20 years. It was a life of hardship during an ugly time in America’s history. Pat had to hide in the basement every time family came to visit, and the couple suffered harassment by strangers on the street who disapproved of interracial unions. Though they couldn’t celebrate their love openly, it was a true story of love conquers all. Their exceptionally close marriage endured until Pat’s death in 1974.
Today I’m proud to celebrate their love publicly in a way that they couldn’t with the publication of my feature story about their lives in Spirit Magazine (the in-flight magazine of Southwest Airlines). I’m indebted to so many people who helped me in my quest to research and recreate their story, from my dear Aunt Bobbi who first shared the story with me, to the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute for awarding me a grant, to friends and family of Shirley and Pat’s who shared their memories and pictures, to writing colleagues in Los Angeles who provided support and encouragement, to my brilliant editor at Spirit, John McAlley.
Shirley and Pat, wherever you are, this is to say: your love mattered, and it will be forever remembered.